IMPROVING LIVES AND STRENGTHENING THE COMMUNITY
For more than 20 years, the Oak Creek Community Center in the heart of the City has been dedicated to improving lives, strengthening community and fostering civic engagement. It continually fulfills this three-fold objective through a variety of outstanding programs and services that truly add value to Oak Creek and surrounding communities. Distinct and original programming is the key to The Center’s success in representing and serving the diverse population of the Oak Creek area.
For example, The Center and its professionally trained staff regularly open its doors to the community for business meetings, special events and milestone celebrations. Its 7,500+ sq. ft. of meeting room space and choice of catering options enable it to handle groups of 5 to 500. So it has become a popular venue for business events, weddings and receptions, showers and birthday parties, and more. And another feature is The Center’s free onsite parking, with space for more than 150 cars.
The Center’s beautiful meeting and banquet facilities are just a small part of its impressive story. Over the past 20+ years, since its founding in 1995, its services and programs have also served as valuable resources for community organizations at little to no cost. In 2016, for example, it made free meeting room space available to more than 40 local non-profit, church, school and civic groups. This perk was valued at more than $120,000.
According to Rick Duchniak, who retired after 17 years as executive director of The Center in January, The Center is the base of operations for dozens of not-for-profit organizations. It provides meeting and program space for food pantries, after-school children’s programs, military and military support groups, and health and wellness agencies (e.g., the Wisconsin Breast Cancer Foundation, the Leukemia Lymphoma Society and the Wisconsin Blood Center). There is also an in-house Senior Center.
On the “programs” side, an estimated 15,000 people took part in The Center’s free special events last year alone. These included an annual Thanksgiving dinner, annual community Christmas tree lighting, craft fairs, a summer concert series, movie nights, indoor and outdoor rummage sales, a bridal expo, and a senior citizen prom.
But perhaps one of the Center’s most unique initiatives has been its “work-based learning program” for Oak Creek High School students with special needs. For the past 15 years, OCHS students have worked side by side with the Center’s professional staff setting up for banquets, parties and events. Duties have included everything from stacking chairs, to folding napkins, to shining silverware, to vacuuming. For most, their work experiences at The Center were their very first, and it enabled them to learn valuable skills helpful when seeking meaningful future employment.
According to Duchniak, “Working with the youth of our community was what I enjoyed the most and what really provided some of my fondest memories at The Center.” Service groups such as the Oak Creek East Middle School Ambassadors, the Oak Creek High School National Honor Society and Renaissance Clubs were truly dedicated to making a positive impact in our community. “Their youthful energy and genuine willingness to help made every event at The Center a special one,” he adds.
What is most amazing about The Center’s wide array of special event and meeting offerings is the fact that The Center has been completely self funded from day one. It does not receive any local, state or federal dollars, except from grants. Monies raised from fundraising events, corporate and individual donations, and for-profit business/banquet/wedding services provide the revenue essential to The Center’s mission of “improving lives and strengthening the community.”
In sharing his final thoughts about The Center before his retirement, Duchniak says he is “honored to have had the opportunity to be part of this dynamic organization. And I am forever thankful to have worked with an incredibly committed staff and Board, and blessed by the strong support of our community.” Duchniak intends to continue as a volunteer and as a member of the Board of Directors at The Center. He also hopes to put his business experience to work for the City of Oak Creek, either as an elected official or a member of one of its commissions/committees.
And as Rich Duchniak steps down as executive director, The Center welcomes Bryan Kwapil to this pivotal role. Kwapil has extensive experience working in the administration and management of a variety of non-profit organizations, including the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City, the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, and the Conner Prairie Museum in Indianapolis. He most recently served as director of guest experience at the Milwaukee Art Museum, where he oversaw food and beverage services, catering, retail operations, security, and admissions and ticketing.
Kwapil admits he was immediately attracted to the position at The Center because of the emphasis on community involvement and audience engagement. “I have a strong interest in developing audience programming and creating collaborative programs with other organizations,” he shares.
According to Kwapil, it’s apparent that The Center is an integral part of the Oak Creek community – one with a long history of successfully serving the interests of this region. “Our Oak Creek community is continuing to grow at an astounding rate, and my task is to see that The Center grows along with it,” he says. “And, while continuing the programs and services that have been so successful in the past, I look forward to working with staff to develop new service opportunities and new programs that respond to the diversity and the needs of the community,” he adds.
The Center looks forward to continuing to serve the community and beyond for another 20 years and more. And we thank them for all that they do for Oak Creek!
Oak Creek Community Center 8580 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek • 414-768-5840